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April vote expected on proposed biomedical engineering minor

A proposal for an offering in biomedical engineering to become MIT's first interdisciplinary minor will be on the agenda for a vote at the April meeting of the faculty.

The proposed minor was outlined at the March 15 faculty meeting by Professor Linda Cima, one of the three professors who drew up the proposal. The others are Roger D. Kamm of mechanical engineering and Alan J. Grodzinsky of EECS.

Professor Linn Hobbs, chair of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, said a humanities minor was first offered in 1987 and other departmental minors began in 1992, but no guidelines were drawn for interdisciplinary minors which pose special problems.

"We hoped that a champion program would arise" that would set a high standard in answering all the problems, he said. "We have such a champion program in biomedical engineering."

The program will be housed in the School of Engineering and linked to the new Center for Biomedical Engineering, directed by Professor Douglas A. Lauffenburger of chemical engineering.

"I'm happy that such a strong program has come along," Professor Hobbs said.

In other matters, the faculty heard a report on housing from Dean Arthur C. Smith of the Office of Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs. He touched on the renovation of Senior House, for which design finalists have been interviewed; the temporary housing of undergraduates in Ashdown, a proposal made necessary by a short-run housing problem over the next few years; and long-range graduate housing needs.

The Institute has traditonally granted housing for eight terms to undergraduates and is looking for ways to maintain this practice, he said. Dorm rooms available at the Massachusetts College of Art are no longer available, leading to the plan to house undergraduates in Ashdown, a graduate dorm. Dean Smith said a student group is being sought which might want to move there for a few years, for example a sorority with no house. Dean Margaret Jablonski is heading up those discussions.

Graduate housing is a long-range problem that needs input from many sectors of the community, Dean Smith said, adding that he hoped that discussions would touch on creating a center for graduate activities where students and faculty could interact. A study some years ago found that faculty on average live about 10 miles from the campus. "This is something we could do better," he said, speaking of fostering more social interaction between students and faculty.

In other business, Henry D. Jacoby, the William F. Pounds Professor of Management, reported on the ongoing discussions by a committee he chairs that is exploring possible ways to improve the Institute's process for handling the investigation of harassment complaints.

The committee is responding to a charge from the president and provost to make recommendations for improvements with an eye to three objectives: to provide for more prompt resolution of unusually difficult or complex formal complaints, to avoid real or perceived conflict of interest, and to expand the group of Institute citizens who have expertise in investigating complaints. The committee's focus is on those complaints that reach the stage of a formal hearing committee.

Two possible refinements of MIT's existing system are under consideration by the committee, Professor Jacoby said. One is the creation of a training course on investigation procedures, which would help faculty and staff be better prepared for this task. It would be recommended to heads of departments, laboratories and divisions and senior officers of the Institute, who are the persons charged with appointing formal hearing committees, and for faculty and staff who might be called on to serve in such an investigative role.

The other idea being discussed is the possibility of establishing an independent harassment investigation procedure, by which the investigation stage of a complaint might be arranged by a panel independent of the responsible Institute officials, Professor Jacoby said. Such a procedure would be available if it could be shown that there was some impediment to a prompt and fair investigation at the local level. The independent procedure would be limited to fact-finding and judgments of credibility, he said, and would not be involved in recommendations for action or appeals. Professor Jacoby raised a number of questions about how such a procedure might work in practice and invited the views of the faculty.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 22, 1995.

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